While all the cruise ships are sitting at the dock waiting for the world to recover from Covid-19, are they making any modifications to help prevent future outbreaks on cruise ships? They certainly have the time for it, but only the cruise lines know for sure. The rest of us can only speculate on what they might do until the cruise ships set sail once again.
If they want to reduce the spread of germs among passengers throughout the ship, the buffet is a good place to start. Will self-serve buffets on cruise ships be a thing of the past?Having all those passengers handle the same serving utensils is definitely an easy way for germs to spread. With each thing you serve up on your plate you touch a handle that hundreds of other people already touched. Then you touch your food, hands, or face. Maybe even the other people you are there with as well. Even if everyone uses the hand sanitizer that is always at the doorway to the buffet there’s no guarantee they won’t cough, sneeze, touch their face, or touch someone else before they finish getting all their food. And the odds of very many if any of them going back to the entrance for more hand sanitizer before going back for seconds or dessert are quite slim indeed.
Having a crew member serve everything that isn’t already dished up on individual plates where passengers would only touch the plate they are taking would stuff up the line and slow down the service for sure, but it would mean just that one crew person touching the serving utensils rather than countless passengers, which would certainly help prevent viruses and bacteria from spreading.
Drink dispensers are another easy source of contamination. Besides touching the button or lever that initiates the liquid filling your cup, there are always those selfishly rude people who fill their water bottles by stuffing the opening they drink out of right on the water spigot contaminating it directly – and I’ve seen people do that to the juice dispensers as well. Short of having a crew person serve up all the drinks or guard the dispensers, they’d have to have come up with some sort of high-tech hands-free dispenser that would only fill its own cups when they are sitting in a designated spot so it couldn’t be used with people’s personal water bottles to solve that one. Passengers could of course get the same water at the bathroom sink in their own cabin, but if they think they must hold up the line to fill it at the drink dispensers they could do better by using a clean cup to obtain the liquid and then pouring it from there into the bottle – without touching the cup to the bottle of course or they would need a new cup for each bit of water they poured in there.
Speaking of clean cups, there is a reason people are supposed to use clean cups and plates for refills. If you put the cup near the spigot instead of setting it down where it belongs when you fill it then a dirty cup will contaminate the dispenser just the same as a personal water bottle. And if a serving utensil touches a plate someone already ate off of they might just as well lick the spoon before they put it back into the food because that will contaminate it just the same.
Of course the buffet isn’t the only place where germs can easily spread. It would be impossible to make every surface on a ship touch-free, but the public bathrooms could be updated with automatic flushing, hands-free faucets and soap dispensers, and automatic doors at the entry. Hands free towel dispensers too for the few ships that use paper towels rather than having a stack of cloth towels that go into a bin for washing after one use.
Elevator doors already open automatically, but then there’s the floor buttons. Everybody needs to tell the elevator what floor they want it to stop on, so each of those buttons gets touched hundreds of times daily. I haven’t seen a ship yet with a voice activated elevator – except for the starship turbolifts on Star Trek. You can of course avoid the elevator by taking the stairs, but be careful not to touch the handrail.
Ships do already have crew cleaning some of the public areas constantly. Maybe they will have even more of them in the future. For the time in between cleanings perhaps hand sanitizer stands set around the ship in more places than eateries and the gangway could be helpful, assuming everybody used them.
The gym is another place where people touch things that a lot of other people touch. Often sweaty people since they are there to work out. There are always clean towels to wipe the equipment off with when done, but the addition of some spray bottles of disinfectant to clean it with could come in useful in preventing the spread of disease.
Many ships have heated ceramic chairs or benches when they have a thermal suite at their spa. This is a pay-extra amenity, so not nearly as many people are using them, but still a place where a variety of people will have touched the same thing between cleanings. Some people put towels between them and the surface of the bench, some don’t. One ship we went on had sanitizing wipes available for people to clean the chairs with. Perhaps having those available on all ships with a thermal suite that includes those chairs or benches would be a good idea.
Cruises are still a great way to see the world on a budget and a fun way to travel. People may just need to be more mindful of what they touch and wash their hands more often. Even during the start of the pandemic while there were still many ships at sea the majority of them didn’t have any Corona virus problems on board. It’s just the few that did that made the news. Later though the Costa Deliziosa – the final ship still sailing – did make the news without any outbreaks, just because they were the last ones left still stranded at sea after a longer than intended cruise until they eventually found a place that would allow them to disembark.
Ideally of course someone will invent vaccines, treatments, and cheap instant tests, but even if those things happen making strides to prevent infections from spreading would still be a positive thing for ships to help keep any other diseases that come along at bay.